‘What we really need is a faux-historical drama series about police brutality and black activism set in 1970s London,’ said no TV viewer, ever. But TV commissioning editors have more important priorities, these days, than mere plausibility, entertainment or value-for-subscription fee. So naturally, when the chance arose to make Guerrilla (Sky Atlantic, Thursday) — a six-parter about Black Panther-style revolutionaries, starring Idris Elba and written by the guy who did 12 Years a Slave — the senior luvvies at Sky were on it like a mistimed high-five.
I like Idris Elba. And I’m not just saying that because it’s actually now illegal not to think he is our greatest living actor who should definitely be the next James Bond and also the lead in all the plays in the next RSC season, from Hamlet to Lear (though not Othello, obviously, because that would be so backward-looking). No, he’s great and all the scenes he’s in in this come alive and make you think that this is a piece of tendentious, race-baiting tosh you could almost bear to watch.
But then, the moment he’s gone, you’re back to reality. Or rather tiresome unreality. Let me give you some examples (plot spoilers ahoy; but don’t worry, I watched this so you don’t have to): the inevitable National Front rally where snarling skinheads, being hatefully white, are opposed by peaceable black folk who just want to make their views known. Down a side street, arrayed like Imperial Stormtroopers, a body of policemen brandishing nightsticks are shown a photograph of the black civil-rights leader they must get. Which they duly do, bashing him down then smashing his brains out (you’re shown this later on the autopsy slab) when he’s on the ground. Exactly like what happened to black civil-rights leaders in London in the 1970s.
Here’s another: the goody black teacher — who is qualified to teach at university level but is totally unable to do so because, like, the only jobs the racists at the racist employment office want to consider him for are racist menial jobs like being a driver or a porter — realises enough is enough…
So, as you do, he and his implausibly hot girlfriend (Freida Pinto from Slumdog Millionaire) plan to strike a blow for the Cause by busting another black activist out of prison. They ask their friendly local IRA man for his help but he says he doesn’t care about their focking politics and that’ll be £7,000 — or, if they haven’t got that, he can get them a shit gun for £100. They opt for the shit gun.
Then, also as you do, the hot girlfriend conceals, in a very intimate part of her person (why? Was this really necessary?), a tube containing ground glass so she can smuggle it into prison and give it to the black activist, who can then swallow it and get taken to hospital with internal bleeding. At which point, naturally, the goody teacher kidnaps the ambulance driver at gunpoint, reluctantly shoots his colleague, and off they all escape ready for next week’s episode.
I’m sorry, but I shan’t be watching it. Why would I — why would any halfway intelligent person, black or white, want to endure any more of this cheap, auto-flagellatory pornography designed by and for the kind of self-hating white liberal pillocks who support Black Lives Matter protests at airports because climate change is racist?
It’s not just the politics that are crap, it’s the sense of period and place. Take the party scene. They’ve got all the joints and stuff but no one — can you believe it? — has got a record player. So they have someone playing a hippie flute instead. Because that was one of the things about the 1970s, it was a bit like the Middle Ages. You’d whip out a crumhorn here, a sackbut there, because people were freer and more authentic back then and also, as in Seventies London, the poor and disenfranchised didn’t have record players.
Amusingly — well, I think it’s amusing — some Black Lives Matter (UK branch) activists were invited to the London screening and proceeded to harangue the cast in the Q&A afterwards for not being black enough. Why was the lead female an ‘Asian’, they wanted to know, and not a proper actual black person? Lol. This is what happens, I’m afraid, when instead of trying to create art you indulge in politically correct gesture politics. When even your minuscule target audience loathes you for what you’ve done, you really ought to know you’ve failed.